While television stations are legally required to run ads purchased by election campaigns, they are allowed to refuse advertising from Super PACs. The Annenberg Public Policy Center has begun a campaign called "Stand By Your Ad," encouraging stations to refuse to run ads that contain distortions or untruths. Brooke talks to Annenberg's Kathleen Hall Jamieson about the project.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: If you were in Georgia during Super Tuesday, you might have seen this attack ad against Newt Gingrich paid for by the pro-Romney PAC Restore Our Future.
ANNOUNCER: While Newt was Speaker, earmarks exploded. He co-sponsored a bill with Nancy Pelosi that would have given $60 million in aid to a UN program supporting China’s brutal one-child policy.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The implication is that Gingrich was surreptitiously supporting an abortion program overseas, a poison pill for any Republican campaign. But according to factcheck.org, the bill in question specifically prohibited, quote, “involuntary sterilization or abortion, or the coercion of any person to accept family planning services.” If there was only some way to keep such distortions off the air. Well, maybe there is.
While television stations are required by law to run ads bought by a presidential campaign, regardless of their content, stations do have the right to refuse to run third party ads, i.e., ads from super PACS. The Annenberg Public Policy Center has created a campaign called “Stand By Your Ad” which hopes to encourage, or shame, stations into dropping misleading or false advertising. Kathleen Hall Jamieson is a professor of communications at the Annenberg School. Kathleen, welcome to the show.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So how exactly do you plan to compel stations to stop running dishonest ads?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Well, “compel” really isn’t the verb. The verb is “encourage through community pressure.”
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Let me rephrase that. How exactly do you intend to blackmail stations –
-to stop running dishonest ads? [LAUGHS]
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: [LAUGHING] By asking people who are viewers of those stations to go FlackCheck.org, which is the sister site of FactCheck.org, where they can find their media market and the stations that they watch, and then they’ll see a letter that we’ve written for them, which they can write anything they want into. And then they cut and paste it into their own email and send it to the stations. And to help, we’re posting up the fact checks on the ads that are airing and the names of the stations that are airing them, as we roll through the primary states. So we’re hoping that station owners and their corporate owners will feel the friendly encouragement of community norms –
-speaking to them, and speaking to their better natures.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: We should note that there have been a number of studies of super PAC ads, and they tend to be more negative and more mendacious than the ads directly sponsored by campaigns, right?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: The further you get from the candidate, the more likely you’re gonna have high levels of attack and higher levels of inaccuracy.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But if the super PACS won’t tweak them to make them accurate, do you really think that TV stations will, or even can, afford to turn them down?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: If the biggest, most reputable station said, we’re gonna insist on accuracy, the advertiser would have to change because the advertiser needs the audience.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How do you measure the success of your project?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: [LAUGHS] That’s the real dilemma. The stations and the advertisers have one thing in common. They have no interest in publicizing any incident in which the station has insisted on accuracy and an ad has been changed. So you’re never going to get a causal inference out of this.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: But we do know that the overall – the advertising that aired on Super Tuesday was more accurate proportionately than the material that had aired before. We don’t know whether that’s because of the natural dynamics of the race or because of the concern that the Republicans are trashing each other to such an extent that they’re gonna damage their eventual nominee. But we do know we had a higher level of accuracy across Super Tuesday. And we know that we’re in the mix. So we know that it has to be better that we’re in the mix than that we’re not.
Newspaper editors, please editorialize to your community and your community’s television stations, reminding them that they can insist on the accuracy of third party ads. That would be super PAC ads, party ads, special interest group ads. If we knew that we could increase the likelihood that the stations would be aware of their right by contacting them, and by having newspapers editorialize about this. And if we knew that we’re in a political environment in which no one is served if people cast votes based on deception, why wouldn’t we take the two minutes to email the station, on the – the off chance that it might make a difference? And if we don’t actually know whether it did or not, it still has only taken two minutes. And it might.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay. This – do you – Kathleen? Will you say your name and then say that you just stood by that message?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: [LAUGHING] My name is Kathleen Hall Jamieson. I –
And I stand by this message. I’m the director o the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania and the director of FlackCheck.org, sister site of FactCheck.org.
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BROOKE GLADSTONE: Kathleen Hall Jamieson, thank you very much.